Wednesday, January 19

Italy. ‘Ndrangheta: we explain everything about the trial of the terrible Calabrian mafia

It is the most powerful mafia group in Italy. The ‘Ndrangheta, formidable mafia of Calabria, a poor region at the tip of the Italian Boot, has been at the heart of a vast trial since January. This is organized in Lamezia Terme, the third largest city in the region.

What are we talking about ?

The trial focuses on a single province of Calabria, that of Vibo Valentia, where the family clans are dominated by Luigi Mancuso.

The sights are set on crimes as diverse as drug trafficking, vote buying and murder. Justice must rule on five alleged murders, including that of a member of the organization murdered in 2002 because of his homosexuality. This extraordinary trial is the most important of its kind since the end of the 1980s.

Who are the accused?

Luigi Mancuso, 67, nicknamed “the Supreme”, is back in court after serving a 19-year prison sentence until 2012. In total, 355 defendants face the court, both alleged bosses and their collaborators. Also on the dock are police officers, clerks, mayors, and even a veterinarian accused of helping sell stolen cattle.

Why a trial now?

For decades, the growing influence of the ‘Ndrangheta has been underestimated by the Italian state, too weak, ineffective or corrupt to attack this sprawling group, whose ramifications extend around the world. With attention focused on the Sicilian Mafia Cosa Nostra, after the assassination of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino near Palermo in 1992, ‘Ndrangheta has been able to develop quietly over the past decades.

Since his appointment in 2016 to the Catanzaro public prosecutor’s office, where he is responsible for anti-mafia proceedings in three quarters of Calabria, Italy’s best-known anti-mafia prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri, has aimed to gain the trust of the population by succeeding to convict members of the ‘Ndrangheta. Once a week, he receives mafia victims in his office to listen to their grievances, people who until now considered the central state to be “very distant” from their problems. The prosecutor has lived under police protection for over 30 years.

Why is the ‘Ndrangheta so powerful?

The ‘Ndrangheta dominates the European cocaine market, with an annual turnover of tens of billions of euros. It has also infiltrated most sectors of the legal economy, with the help of members of the business and political communities.

According to experts, it is now present in all sectors of activity of the Calabrian legal economy, from construction to hospitals, including agriculture, hotels, funeral directors and finance. This point makes its eradication almost impossible. Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri estimates at 9% the share of Calabrian GDP monopolized by the mafia.

Calabria is a very poor region: public works are often interrupted along the way, the health system on the verge of collapse and the unemployment rate is one of the highest in Europe, forcing young people to emigrate to the north or abroad.

What are his methods?

Exceptionally, 58 repentants have agreed to testify for the prosecution – which is very rare. Intimidation, bribes, threats, extortion, usury practices, murders, weapons stored in funerary monuments … The ‘Ndrangheta methods are brutal and insidious.

In May, Andrea Mantella, ex-high-ranking officer, recalled how a boss had killed two brothers out of revenge in 1988: “They waited for them in Morelli Square, invited them to eat ricotta at the farm (… ) and they killed, burned and dissolved them “. He also explained how a bribe of 70,000 euros was enough to transfer him from a conventional prison to a hospital and how ‘Ndrangheta paid 50,000 euros to a former senator and lawyer, Giancarlo Pittelli, to rig a lawsuit.

Other witnesses recounted how ambulances were used for drug trafficking, public water diverted to fuel marijuana crops, and migrants who died drowned and buried without coffins after a tender public rigged.

The ‘Ndrangheta uses various tactics to extort money in return for its “protection”: forcing landlords to sell their property below market price, forcing someone to buy from “friendly” businesses, or to collect money. loans at usurious rates that can exceed 200%.

Among the methods of intimidation: puppies, dead dolphins or goat heads left on a doorstep, telephone threats, beatings, cars set on fire, Molotov cocktails and gun shots.

What can this trial lead to?

The prosecution obtained a first victory on November 6, by condemning 70 members of the ‘Ndrangheta or people with links to it, out of the 91 who had opted for an accelerated procedure. Some senior officials have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Since 1991, 110 municipal councils have been dissolved for mafia infiltration, up to three times for some of them, including that of Lamezia Terme for the last time in 2017. The hometown of the Mancuso clan, Limbadi, was the first to see its municipal council dissolved in 1983, when a fugitive boss, Francesco Mancuso, was elected mayor.

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